Saturday, January 24, 2015

Top 10 Films of 2014

MoviesOpinion

The Oscar nominations have been announced and all the critic groups have announced their best of 2014 lists. There has definitely been a bit of a general consensus around a few key films this year, some of which will appear on my list. I am not a film critic so my list includes some of my favourite quotes from some of my favourite critics, describing my top 10 films of 2014. There were several others films that I loved but I just couldn’t squeeze into my top 10 list, including The Grand Budapest Hotel, Birdman, Ida, and Nightcrawler.

Here are my top 10 films of 2014:

1. Boyhood

Director: Richard Linklater

Ann Hornaday, writing for The Washington Post:

What makes Linklater great is that he possesses the modesty and confidence to simply observe banal, otherwise forgettable non-events, then invest them with scale and sweep and deep significance. As a film that dares to honor small moments and the life they add up to, “Boyhood” isn’t just a masterpiece. It’s a miracle.

2. Under the Skin

Director: Jonathan Glazer

Matt Zoller Seitz, writing for rogerebert.com:

Movies like this don’t find their way into commercial cinemas very often. When they do, they don’t tend to star anyone you’ve heard of. When a film comes along that doesn’t fit the usual marketplace paradigms, such as “The Tree of Life” or “Upstream Color” or “Spring Breakers,” you take notice. “Under the Skin” is a film in that vein.

Is it perfect? Probably not. It might be too much of something, or too little of something else. Time will sort out the particulars. But I do know that the movie’s sensibility is as distinctive as any I’ve seen. “Under the Skin” is hideously beautiful. Its life force is overwhelming.

3. Mommy

Director: Xavier Dolan

Peter Howell, writing for The Toronto Star:

Xavier Dolan’s Mommy is defiantly a movie for the here and now, something so immediate, its very form resembles Instagram photos or smartphone videos.This fifth (and best) feature by the 25-year-old Quebec auteur demonstrates a mastery of the lens that would be remarkable at any age. Dolan and cinematographer André Turpin place each volatile image within a square 1:1 format, making the energy within it all the more intense.

4. Whiplash

Director: Damien Chazelle

Michael Phillips, writing for The Chicago Tribune:

“Whiplash” is true to its title. It throws you around with impunity, yet Chazelle exerts tight, exacting control over his increasingly feverish and often weirdly comic melodrama. (At times the intensity rivals Darren Aronofsky’s ballet nightmare, “Black Swan.”

5. Gone Girl

Director: David Fincher

Justin Chang, writing for Variety:

Surgically precise, grimly funny and entirely mesmerizing over the course of its swift 149-minute running time, this taut yet expansive psychological thriller represents an exceptional pairing of filmmaker and material, fully expressing Fincher’s cynicism about the information age and his abiding fascination with the terror and violence lurking beneath the surfaces of contemporary American life.

6. Selma

Director: Ava Duvernay

A.O. Scott, writing for The New York Times:

Ms. DuVernay, in her third feature (after “I Will Follow” and “Middle of Nowhere”), writes history with passionate clarity and blazing conviction. (The cinematographer, Bradford Young, captures its shadows and its glow.) Even if you think you know what’s coming, “Selma” hums with suspense and surprise. Packed with incident and overflowing with fascinating characters, it is a triumph of efficient, emphatic cinematic storytelling.

7. Interstellar

Director: Christopher Nolan

Kenneth Turan, writing for LA Times:

But though it’s a big studio blockbuster with all the traditional plot elements the term implies, “Interstellar” turns out to be the rarest beast in the Hollywood jungle. It’s a mass audience picture that’s intelligent as well as epic, with a sophisticated script that’s as interested in emotional moments as immersive visuals. Which is saying a lot.

8. Blue Ruin

Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Andrew O’Heheir, writing for Salon:

It’s a brilliant, slow-burning American revenge thriller that hardly puts a foot wrong, a work of startling violence and profound conscience that announces the arrival of an exciting young director.

9. Snowpiercer

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Patrick Gamble, writing for CineVue:

Seamlessly entwining the dramatic tensions and linear narratives of western cinema with the stylised violence and absurdity of its Asian counterparts, Snowpiercer is a genuinely global film – a rich hybrid of styles that breaks through cultural and political boundaries. The performances are equally as diverse. While Swinton’s Thatcher-esque fundamentalist steals the limelight, but the entire cast from Jamie Bell and Evans to Kang-ho and Ko Ah-sung all bring something fresh to the fore. And yet, it’s the depiction of class warfare and the rise of the proletariat that makes Bong’s triumph more that just a runaway actioner. The intelligent scrutiny of neoliberal ideals makes for a wonderfully reflective, spectacular think piece on social irresponsibility and individualism.

10. Citizenfour

Director: Laura Poitras

Matt Patches, writing for HitFix:

That’s the paranoid exhilaration of “CITZENFOUR,” Laura Poitras’ inside look into the 2013 global surveillance disclosures and the man who blew the NSA whistle: Edward Snowden. Actually, “inside” doesn’t do the film justice; Poitras isn’t picking the brains of experts and beginning her investigation after the fact. As Snowden and Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald sift through a cache of confidential documents to decide where to strike first, Poitros is there rolling camera, rubbing shoulders with a man whose media profile would explode only a week after their first face-to-face meeting. A reminder of the NSA’s infractions, an indictment of American bullying tactics and a powerful character study of the down-to-Earth Snowden, “CITIZENFOUR” is an expertly crafted expose with unprecedented urgency.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Apple Pay Coming to Canada as Soon as March   

AppleFinance

Jordan Kahn, reporting for 9to5Mac:

Apple is preparing to expand its new Apple Pay payments service internationally with at least the Canadian launch currently scheduled for early 2015, according to sources close to the situation.

Sources say partners are currently in negotiations with Apple regarding the launch scheduled to come sometime in the first half of this year. Apple and Canadian launch partners are in the process of planning advertising and other promotional material for March, which indicates that the launch could come as soon as then. Of course, these are still active discussions and it’s possible the talks could fail to result in a launch by March. Several sources, however, tell us Apple is currently targeting that timeframe.

Given the high prevalence of NFC-equipped point of sale machines in Canadian retail stores, it certainly makes sense to launch Apple Pay in Canada. On the other hand, unlike the fragmented U.S. financial services industry, Canadian credit cards are issued by a very small group of very large banks, which I’m guessing has made for more difficult negotiations. It will be interesting to see if the Canadian version of Apple Pay launches in the form of an exclusive partnership with a single bank or as a broad initiative with all banks. My bet would be all banks.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

NASA to hack Mars rover Opportunity to fix ‘amnesia’ fault   

ScienceTechnology

BBC News:

Mars rover Opportunity, which has been exploring the Red Planet for more than 10 years, is suffering from memory problems, NASA has said.

The six-wheeled vehicle – not to be confused with Curiosity, which launched in 2011 – keeps resetting unexpectedly.

The Opportunity team thinks an age-related fault affecting the flash memory used by the robot is to blame.

It is hard enough to diagnose and fix computer problems when the machine is sitting on a desk just a few feet away. It’s quite another thing to do all that when the ‘computer’ is many millions of kilometres away. Impressive stuff.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Nuke Remark Stirred Hack on Sands Casinos That Foreshadowed Sony   

PoliticsTechnology

Benjamin Elgin and Michael Riley reporting for Bloomberg:

Most gamblers were still asleep, and the gondoliers had yet to pole their way down the ersatz canal in front of the Venetian casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

But early on the chilly morning of Feb. 10, just above the casino floor, the offices of the world’s largest gaming company were gripped by chaos. Computers were flatlining, e-mail was down, most phones didn’t work, and several of the technology systems that help run the $14 billion operation had sputtered to a halt.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Revisiting My ‘Hopes for WWDC 2014’

AppleOpinion

Back in May, during the lead up to Apple’s annual developer conference, I wrote an article detailing my ‘Hopes for WWDC 2014.’ During the conference there were a lot of announcements for developers1 but no major hardware product announcements, leaving me to wonder if my hopes were simply too optimistic:

  • an iterative iPhone 6 design with better battery life and a better camera
  • an iMac with retina display
  • an update to Aperture, Apple’s professional photo management tool
  • a mobile payment platform
  • premium wireless in-ear headphones
  • a wireless keyboard with numeric keypad

As it turns out, naming the article simply ‘Hopes for 2014′ would have been more appropriate. Despite the lack of announcements at WWDC, Apple spent the rest of the year addressing most of the items on my list.

iPhone

At a press event in September, Apple announced the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. I was hoping for an iterative design, and I think Apple certainly delivered that. Having used an iPhone 6 for several months now, I’m really enjoying the curved edges and I’ve acclimatized to the larger screen2. I was also hoping for improved battery life and a better camera, both of which Apple delivered3.

iMac

At a press event in October, Apple announced the iMac with Retina 5K display. This is the computer I’ve been waiting years for, and Apple actually exceeded my hopes with this announcement. The retina screen – with over 14 million pixels – is beautiful not just for viewing photographs, but for reading email and browsing the web too. One of the biggest benefits of a high resolution screen is the improved rendering of inky, crisp, text. Combined with a solid state hard drive and a bunch of RAM, my new iMac with Retina 5K display puts my five year old iMac to absolute shame – I’m almost embarrassed for it.

Aperture

In May I argued that Aperture hadn’t received a major update since 2010 and that it needed some major features in order to leap-frog the competition. I should have been careful what I wished for, as Apple soon thereafter announced that “there will be no new development of Aperture.”

The announcement was bittersweet. I truly believe that Aperture is a better photo management tool than Adobe Lightroom, but as the iPod and eventually the iPhone gained in popularity, Apple’s priorities shifted away from professional tools to the consumer, leaving Aperture to die a slow painful death. To sunset Aperture is an understandable decision, but unfortunate for those of us that spent countless hours editing photos using its proprietary adjustments – work that can’t be transferred non-destructively to Lightroom.

The silver lining in all this is that Apple is developing new photo management software for the Mac – called Photos – which I’m assuming will be developed in conjunction with its iOS equivalent. It should therefore benefit from a larger team and more attention going forward. I don’t expect Photos version 1.0 to have the same features as Aperture, but I’m optimistic that over time it will grow into something equally powerful. Photos will support extensions, so there’s the possibility that features overlooked by Apple can be implemented by developers.

I will continue to use Aperture until Photos is released, and possibly long thereafter. Rather than hoping for an Aperture upgrade, I’m now relegated to a hope that whatever replaces it will be good enough to avoid a painful switch to Lightroom.

Mobile payments

In May I wrote:

I also hope Apple unveils a mobile payment platform at WWDC. The typical retail purchasing experience is inefficient (paying at the register takes a lot of time) and potentially insecure (fraud and theft are pervasive). Despite many attempts by others, no company has yet cracked mobile payments. Consumers typically need a particular device, a particular app, or a particular prepaid account and then need to search out vendors that support the same.

In September, alongside new iPhones, Apple introduced their version of mobile payments: Apple Pay. In true Apple fashion, they found an elegant solution for an unwieldy and fragmented industry. Apple Pay has the potential to do for retail purchases what iTunes did for music. I haven’t tried Apple Pay myself but reviews are generally positive and I look forward to Apple Pay expanding to additional countries – namely Canada – soon.

One area where I think Apple Pay can expand is receipts. I use financial software to keep a budget and track purchases, which involves some manual entry of paper receipts. It is time consuming, error-prone, and creates a lot of waste. If each Apple Pay transaction generated a digital receipt in an open standard that could then interface with financial software, it would go a long way to simplifying my life.

Wireless EarPods

I like Apple’s EarPods, but the wire connecting them to things is very limiting. The wire is always getting tangled, caught on clothing, or fraying over time. Wireless headphones already exist, and some companies are developing small in-ear versions. I think Apple, as an expert in energy-efficient mobile devices and industrial design, is uniquely positioned to develop the most compelling product in this space.

While there haven’t been any announcements of such a product, Apple CEO Tim Cook referenced bluetooth headsets in a recent interview with Charlie Rose:

[Apple Watch] requires an iPhone, because they’ve been designed to work together. However, if you go for a run, and you don’t want to carry your iPhone, music is also on your watch. So with a Bluetooth headset, you can run and listen to your music without your iPhone.

Apple is obviously aware of the huge potential for wireless headphones, especially given their pending entry into wearables. The Apple Watch is scheduled to go on sale in early 2015, so perhaps we’ll have to wait a few more months for wireless EarPods?

Wireless keyboard with numeric keypad

When configuring my new iMac, I was given two keyboard options: the Apple Wireless Keyboard or the Apple Keyboard with Numeric Keypad. The wireless keyboard layout mimics that of a Macbook with smaller arrow keys, no home/end or page up/down keys, and no numeric keypad. As someone that spends a lot of time working on spreadsheets, I can’t imagine using a keyboard without a numeric keypad and I’m therefore stuck with the wired keyboard.

For all the emphasis Apple places on design and simplicity, I don’t understand why they haven’t released a wireless keyboard with numeric keypad. Looking at that wire as it snakes across my desk is a constant annoyance4. Of all my ‘Hopes for 2014′ this one seems the least likely to ever get any attention. If anything, Apple may discontinue the keyboard with numeric keyboard altogether.

While WWDC 2014 was a bust for my wish list, the remainder of the year proved pretty successful: I got the iPhone update I wanted, the iMac of my dreams, rebooted Mac photo management software (although certainly not in the form I was expecting), Apple Pay, and even a sense that wireless EarPods could be around the corner. Now if only the finance and accounting teams at Apple would start pulling some strings for those of us that like the numeric keypad but hate wires. Here’s hoping for 2015.


  1. iCloud Drive, Continuity, HealthKit, Swift, Extensions, and HomeKit to name a few. 
  2. I transitioned from the 3.5″ screen of the iPhone 4 to the 4.7″ screen of the iPhone 6. 
  3. For internet browsing on Wi-Fi, the iPhone 6 provides an additional hour of battery life compared to the iPhone 5s while the iPhone 6 Plus provides two additional hours. Source: apple.com/iphone/compare/ 
  4. To add insult to injury, the material used in the keyboard wire is very rigid. Different parts of the wire slant in different directions and the wire refuses any attempts at being ‘trained,’ much like my wavy, often uncontrollable hair5
  5. Also a constant annoyance. 
Monday, December 8, 2014

Music Monday – James Hersey’s ‘Coming Over’ (Filous Remix)

MusicOpinion

I love randomly stumbling across new music. I was on YouTube searching for a different artist and decided to click on one of the related videos and found this gem of a track – Coming Over by James Hersey (Filous Remix).

James is an electro-pop singer-songwriter, producer, and recording artist from Vienna, Austria. Filous is a 17 year old music producer from Austria. The track is brilliant on its own but this remix gives it a nice upbeat punch, which makes it even harder not to keep it on repeat.

My only complaint is that I can’t buy any of James’ music on iTunes, well at least in the Canadian store. This guy has a seriously unique vibe and I can’t wait to see where his music takes him.

Enjoy.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Hockey Night in Canada: How CBC lost it all   

Sports

David Shoalts, writing for The Globe and Mail:

The victors strode into the CBC’s Toronto headquarters at 250 Front St. West on June 1 in an especially humiliating denouement for what was left of the public network’s sports department and its version of Hockey Night In Canada.

Not only had Rogers Communications Inc. wrenched the Canadian national broadcast rights to NHL games from the CBC’s grasp with a stunning $5.2-billion payout over the next 12 years, but the Visigoths were actually at the gate. Part of the ensuing deal, in which those in charge of the CBC meekly handed over the company’s airwaves for free, was that the Rogers people connected to Hockey Night, along with some people hired from rival TSN, would use the CBC’s studios and take over the show’s office space on the north side of the eighth floor – the plushest in the building thanks to the show’s status as the network’s biggest money spinner.

Quite a story. It’s hard to see how the CBC could have possibly struck a deal with the NHL when the competition was offering more than $12 per Canadian per year. It will be interesting to see if Rogers is able to monetize their new-found hockey monopoly.

(Via The Loop)

Jason Snell Reviews the iPad Air 2   

Apple

Jason Snell:

Yes, Apple has shaved 1.4 millimeters off the thickness of the original iPad Air, and roughly 33 grams off the weight. There’s a nice commercial where a laser beam cuts off part of that pencil from the original iPad Air commercial, because the iPad Air 2 is thinner than a pencil, you see.

Forget all that. Apple’s continual quest for thinness remains intact, but the biggest improvements on this device come courtesy of features any old-school computer nerd could love, namely fast chips and more RAM.